It’s as simple as that, if you can’t be bothered to read any further (fair enough…it’s gonna be a biggie), we have just those two words for you…..visit Iran!
Seriously, it should be the tourist industry’s best kept secret, but it seems even they can’t be bothered to get a visa. Some day it will almost certainly be the next ‘Croatia’, this country has SO much to offer: incredibly dramatic and varied landscapes, stunning architecture and ancient sites, and the friendliest people you could possibly imagine.
Having said all that, we didn’t exactly get off to a flying start. We survived Pakistan of course, but the bus journey to the border was certainly atmospheric. Baluchistan looks, and feels, very different to the endless flat green fields of Eastern Pakistan and India. Reminiscent of ‘Afghan’ scenes from the news, there are snowy peaks, ragged ravines, and plenty of Al-Qaeda style cave systems. I have to admit my heart wandered towards my mouth every time some beardie got up to stretch his legs, combine this with the bumps and disco lights and it wasn’t exactly a restful night. Break stops were particularly evocative: we sheltered from the cold in a typical long, low mud house, sipping tea and breaking bread on communal mats. There are a huge variety of races and faces focussed on eking out an existence in this tough landscape.
The Pakistan border was mercifully efficient, displaying prominent notices directing flood aid workers, not that we saw any. Unfortunately, that was the end of the efficiency for the day. In this new and dramatically rugged landscape we were stoked to be getting back on the bikes but sadly it wasn’t going to happen. The Iranian immigration official handed our passports directly to the cops. They, in turn, insisted we take a police escort vehicle to the next major town of Kerman as there’s a background grumble of bandits and drug smugglers around here. Fantastic!
Police escort sounds easier than cycling? It wasnt! With little or no Farsi/English communication possible we spent the day in various stages of confusion and fatigue as we visited 4 different police stations, watched our passports change hands 9 times and crawled along for half an hour in a cop car that couldn’t get out of first gear. Reassuring escort that one! But despite the language barrier the Iranians exude the kind of genuine smiles, warmth and hospitality that make it hard to be irritated for too long. Finally we were parcelled onto a bus for the remaining leg of the journey to Kerman, and hooray, handed back our passports. Minus one important detail. My entry stamp for Iran. Seriously, at least 9 cops had carefully inspected our passports that day, noting down our details, but not one had noticed that I didn’t actually have an entry stamp. Muppets! We had no choice but to continue on to Kerman and hope we could sort it out from there.
Once again, this galling day was rescued by a big smiling Iranian. We got chatting to Behruz during a bus break and he quickly invited us to spend the night in his Kerman home. Seemed as good a plan as any. His wife whipped up an Iranian feast when we arrived at 1am and then insisted we take their bed for the night. Iranians know how to stand their ground, so take their bed we did! We spent the following morning establishing that the only option for the missing entry stamp was to return to the border. Grrrr! But best to wait till ‘monday’ morning so we took advantage of a couple of days in Kerman.
Behruz is a trained ‘tour leader’, part time english teacher and computing student so he capably guided us through Kerman’s historic bazaar and restored Hammam. In return we spent a couple of hours chatting with his charming students at afternoon classes.
The following day we piled into the in-laws car for a visit to the Kaluts desert. But first a fierce snowball fight, snowmen and sledging in the snowy peaks surrounding Kerman. Drive on less than 100km from these snowy mountains and you enter the Kaluts, one of the hottest places on earth. I’ll let the pictures do the talking but this is serious desert, not even bacteria survive here. It would have been spectacular cycle camping, but any disappointment at not being on the bikes (stupid border official!) was quickly giggled away with the lovely family company, and messing around with the kids!
Feeling suitably restored we faced up to another 9 hours on buses to return to the border. And so began the kind of farce you wouldn’t believe if I tried to explain it. Even facilitated by the kind local uncle of our ‘Mr. Fix-it’ Behruz, this journey involved 3 government offices and 16 police stops in 170km. Endless discussions and arguing – over what, we never knew. Finally we got to the border, found the cop we’d chatted up on our first visit and got the guilty-looking border agent to give me my stamp. Phew! And so, we returned to Kerman, said fond farewells to Behruz and Allaheh and, adding their gifts of delicious cakes and a ‘chador’ for me to the bikes, we finally got back on the road!
I doubt I’ve really succeeded in convincing you to ‘visit Iran’ with that tale of woe. But, time’s up, so I’m afraid you’ll have to wait for the next instalment! Needless to say, the road has been treating us exceptionally well but we haven’t had frequent web access or much spare time recently, and with wordpress and facebook banned in Iran this is coming via the folks in Donegal. Good skills Pop!
Geek facts of the week
We haven’t got any….so instead, to brighten up your lunchbox, I give you ‘sandwich filling of the week’……..
Stuff your sandwich bread (preferably a flatbread) with fat juicy dates, walnuts and cream cheese. Soooo good….we’ve been eating it twice a day for two weeks now and I’m still craving more!